Inspector amended notes after Listeriosis deaths: Documents

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By Sarah Schmidt, Canwest News ServiceApril 28, 2009


A government food inspector stationed at the Maple Leaf plant that produced contaminated meat last year amended some of his records at the height of the media coverage on the outbreak to minimize concerns and highlight there was "no food safety risk," say internal documents.

Hundreds of inspection worksheets from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency released under Access to Information show that, overall, the company met an acceptable level of compliance -- the monitoring and verification records related to pre-operational sanitation were complete, even though some "deviations were identified, food safety was assessed and corrective actions were initiated" in some instances.

The documents also show the CFIA inspector added hand-written notes to select verification worksheets on Aug. 26, 2008 -- after the death toll from the listeriosis outbreak linked to the Toronto plant had risen to 12 confirmed cases and while the outbreak was dominating the news.

The CFIA was not available on Monday to comment on why the amendments were made, including one pertaining to how plant staff cleaned slicing equipment.

After the August outbreak, which resulted in the death of 21 Canadians, the company determined listeria bacteria found deep inside two meat slicers at the Toronto plant was likely the cause of the contamination. The company discovered the accumulation after the machines were fully dismantled, a step beyond the equipment's normal cleaning procedures.

On Feb. 2, 2008, the inspector compared Maple Leaf's sanitation manual and the operator's plan for the sanitation of slicing equipment to company records from the previous month. The inspector found that the "monitoring frequency . . . is not always adhered to" and records for the previous month show "only the clean up" of four production lines were recorded.

"The deviation was not identified during the verification," the worksheet originally stated.

On Aug. 26, the inspector added a handwritten note to the file, stating that after interviewing company officials, "it was identified that all slicing equipment was being sanitized in the operator's frequency. However, the operator was not recording for all lines. As the lines were being cleaned, no food safety risk was identified."

In another instance, the inspector reviewed company paperwork and conducted an on-site review of cleanup verification on March 13, 2008, as part of a prescribed task to verify the sanitation practices at the plant.

Five months after the incident, the inspector qualified that food had come into contact with the water and the "production supervisor took immediate action when advised," state the handwritten notes dated Aug. 26.


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